Graphic campaign curbs Victorians' love affair with sugary drinks
Victorians could be spared from 1,085 new cases of type 2 diabetes and 153 new cases of heart disease if the government ran a graphic public education campaign on the link between sugary drinks and chronic health conditions, according to health researchers.
The evaluation of the LiveLighter ‘Sugary Drinks’ campaign (published in the BMJ Open today) has revealed that Victorians cut back on sugary drinks as a direct result of the campaign airing for just six weeks.
A separate economic analysis based on the evaluation results estimated that if the same six-week campaign ran 12 times over three years in Victoria, at a cost of $9.8 million, it would save $51.3 million in healthcare costs.
The campaign was evaluated by comparing attitudes and behaviour regarding sugary drinks between 673 adults in Victoria where the LiveLighter campaign aired, and 730 in South Australia where it did not.
The campaign evaluation found:
- The proportion of Victorians who consumed four or more cups of sugary drinks per week had declined from 31% prior to the campaign to 22% at the end of the campaign period. There was no such change in the comparison state of South Australia.
- Among overweight adults who consumed one or more cups of sugary drink per week, the evaluation found an increase in the proportion who had knowledge of the link between sugary drinks and toxic fat from 60% pre-campaign to 71% post-campaign, but no change among South Australians.
“These results are significant; it’s not very often in public health you see a campaign make such an immediate impact on behaviour. Even with those iconic graphic Quit and SunSmart campaigns, it took a while to see people taking on the messages and making lifestyle changes for the better,” said lead Cancer Council Victoria researcher, Dr Belinda Morley.
“Being an unhealthy weight is a sensitive and complex health issue for many Victorians, but one we can’t shy away from because the health impacts are significant. What this campaign shows is if you empower people with information, they are able to make healthier decisions for themselves,” said Cancer Council Victoria CEO Mr Todd Harper.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that just over half (52%) of the added sugar Australians consume comes from beverages, such as soft drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks.
“Sugary drinks are the largest contributor of added sugar for the Australian population. So cutting back on sugary drinks is an easy way to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet – and Victorians seem to be very receptive to making these types of simple lifestyle changes,” said Mr Harper.
“These results provide convincing evidence that these types of public education campaigns are effective in helping reduce obesity and obesity-related illness.”
“We believe this research will give governments the confidence to continue to invest in these types of prevention campaigns, knowing they improve health outcomes and also deliver economic value.”
About the campaign and findings
The LiveLighter Victoria ‘Sugary Drinks’ campaign that highlighted the link between sugary drinks and toxic fat and encouraged Victorians to cut back on sugary drinks was broadcast on television and other supporting media from 11 October 2015 for a period of six weeks. View the ad here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGSTfRUEnDY
The campaign was evaluated using a controlled cohort design with a comparison state. Telephone population surveys of people aged 25 to 49 years were undertaken in September and the first week of October 2015 in each of Victoria (campaign state) and South Australia (no campaign comparison state). Over 75% of these same respondents were successfully followed-up in November and early December after the campaign ended. The comparison between states used data from people who had completed both the baseline and follow-up surveys.
Sugary drinks include all non-alcoholic water-based beverages with added sugar such as non-diet soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks and cordial.
To cite and access the journal article: Morley BC, Niven PH, Dixon HG, et al. Controlled cohort evaluation of the LiveLighter mass media campaign’s impact on adults’ reported consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. BMJ Open 2018;0:e019574. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2017-019574
About the economic analysis
This analysis evaluates the cost effectiveness of the 2015 Victorian sugary drink campaign designed to reduce sugar sweetened beverage consumption. The impact on long term morbidity and mortality associated with nine obesity-related diseases, including diabetes and certain cancers, and their related healthcare costs were also estimated.
The analysis has found that a three-year campaign, costing approximately $9.8M and run as 12 six-week bursts, is estimated to save $51.3M in healthcare system costs, 1,085 new cases of type 2 diabetes and 153 new cases of heart disease. This analysis is set to be published in late 2018, and will be the first data available on the cost-effectiveness of public education campaigns in this setting to inform funding and resource allocation decisions. More results will be available when it is published.
LiveLighter is a public health education campaign which encourages Victorians to lead healthier lives by changing what they eat and drink and being more active. During the period of the analysis the campaign was funded by the Victorian Government and delivered by Cancer Council Victoria in conjunction with the Heart Foundation (Vic). For more information visit www.livelighter.com.au
 Linggang l et al (2016) Dietary intake and food sources of added sugar in the Australian population. British Journal of Nutrition 115, 868-877